Designed by Design Engine Architects Ltd in collaboration with engineers Peter Brett Associates, the new £5.9m bridge is funded through Reading Borough Council in the UK’s successful £20.7m bid for support from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) and provides an important new link for pedestrians and cyclists between Reading Town Centre, the upgraded rail station and Caversham’s riverside areas.
Planning permission was granted in October 2013 and main contractor Balfour Beatty working with the steel fabricator Hollandia started construction in November 2014, with completion in August 2015.
The location of the new bridge is just to the north of Reading Town Centre, between Fry’s Island and Reading Bridge.
The location and alignment of the bridge was decided following a rigorous options appraisal process that took into account environmental, aesthetic and amenity impacts. The confined site on the South Bank and the possibility of future extension to allow direct access to the Town Centre led to a two-part solution, the first part being the main bridge span across the river and the second being the ramp and stair on the Southern side. To maintain the purity of the bridge span these were conceived as two separate elements both structurally and visually.
A single-masted, cable-stayed structure was developed for the principal river span due to its lightness of appearance, value for money, deliverability (including ease of construction), and clear navigation width. The structure creates a river span of 68m and a land span of 54m supported by a mast of 39m height located above the north bank of the River Thames.
The single slender mast was positioned on the north bank with the land span continuing straight on into Christchurch Meadows to balance the river span visually and structurally. The slenderness of the mast is reinforced further by continuing the two side elements of the main mast structure beyond the line of the last cable.
The bridge deck gently tapers from its widest point around the mast towards either end, A timber-clad bench folds out of the mast at this point.
Even though the bridge is the key structural component it has been necessary to develop a different approach to how the bridge deck meets the southern towpath. It was considered important that due to the relationship between the single mast and the bridge deck that the overall impression is that the bridge is in balance. These two elements were therefore treated as a separate entity.
The ramp and stair structure sit within the River Thames, a gentle curve to the ramp and stair gives a breathing space to the towpath that increases as the structure rises to meet the bridge. The balustrading to the ramp is formed from a series of random vertical bars made from weathering steel at different angles to echo the natural reed banks which part of the river edge along this part of the Thames.
The structure is conceived as a single tapering mast in balance with the main deck which touches down onto Christchurch Meadows. The slender steel deck is supported by 14 pairs of cables.
Where the bridge reaches the southern towpath the balustrading is fabricated from weathering steel echoing the form of the reeds along the edge of the river Thames in this location.